In the past month I have written two pieces. Rather, I thought I wrote two pieces of music. At best, new music comes with difficulty in recent years. This wasn’t always so, but as S. J. Perelman said, “with each piece you use up a part of yourself.” And having written about 225 pieces of music in my life so far, that means a lot of used up self.
Still, I forge on because of how much pleasure the act of working and being productive gives me. But back to my original thought…
In the process of writing, I turn over every aspect of the new piece a thousand times trying to make an idea as concise as possible. In so doing, I see that one of these “new pieces” is going to work. It sustains interest throughout and is a fairly original concept.
The other piece, which I liked a lot initially, seems too derivative to my ears now. So even though I put a lot of heart and labor into it, I have to rip it up. And so it goes. The one thing I have learned with time is that you have to be a brutal self editor.
I have never been able to “design” my creativity. For example, I wanted to write a quiet and meditative piece of music. The music I am now discarding is such a piece but, as I said, I have either done something like it before, or it seems too much like someone else has said it before, and probably in a much better way.
The song I am retaining came out of nowhere (or my subconscious) and is a jaunty thing that has comic aspects. Where this is emanating from is beyond me. The best and most original things I have come up with commonly spring out of thin air as if they had always somehow existed and all I needed to do was remember it.
Patience is something that has been a difficult lesson for me, but as a composer of music (if I may be so bold as to apply that lofty term to myself) it is indeed patience that reaps the best results.
I am reminded of the single word Franz Kafka had posted above his bed “WARTE,” which simply means “WAIT.”
Finally, I have come to the realization that making music is an almost biological need for me. While recently reading Jan Swafford’s great biography of Johannes Brahms, I found a sentence that expresses this idea perfectly.
“Much of the time, outside music, he lived like a boxer between rounds.”
As I get older, a certain aspect of wisdom has come my way. Being someone who will never completely surrender their “Peter Pan Principle” this does not mean I will all together submit to advancing age. I only intend to assimilate its (aging) better aspects, and like a fledgling alchemist, I will try to mix some childlike wonder with a dash of sagacity.
I need to retain “childlike” in so much as playfulness is essential, to me at least, in remaining open to new ideas and the expression of eternal curiosity. The “sagacity” or “experience of time” has tempered my judgement and given me a new found patience and acceptance. By acceptance I mean to have no expectations about any reward for a “job well done.” Lack of recognition was always a “touchy” point with me when I was younger. In retrospect, I see that I often over-valued my efforts. I now simply work because it fulfills me and makes me feel as if I am doing what I was meant to do.
In the past, I was constantly waiting for my mentor to arrive, or looking for my “Road to Damascus” moment. Now, it is clear I am my own best mentor and and Road to Damascus is a lifetime and not a single moment.
Further, I don’t claim to be abundantly spiritual or religious. As a matter of fact, I have, in the course of my life, been all things in this regard including atheist, agnostic, and true believer.
Now I have settled on a sort of Pascal’s Wager. I am inclined toward believing and act as if I do believe, though I am far from certain about what God or Eternity is.
I am comforted in this stance and the scripture “act as you believe and faith will come to thee” has not fully revealed itself to me, but I am fairly content with this resolution.
My daily prayer is:
“Show me how I can best serve.”
Here endeth the sermon.
I first heard about Alain-Fournier while doing research on one of my favorite composers, Maurice Ravel. I was researching Ravel’s 1928 American tour at the Minnesota History Museum. I later turned over my findings to the Ravel museum in Montfort L’Amaury, near Paris. This museum was Ravel’s home until his passing in 1937, and I have visited it several times and developed a friendship with the curator, which is what motivated my work on researching newspaper accounts on Ravel’s only American tour.
One of the things I came across was an interview Ravel gave in Texas where he mentioned he was thinking about writing a symphonic poem based on his favorite French novel, “Le Grand Meaulnes.”
Subsequently, I learned from a French guitar student of mine that this novel is the “Huck Finn” of French literature. In other words, a coming of age novel.
The author, (Alain-Fournier), died tragically at the beginning of World War One in combat at the age of 27. He had just completed and published his first (and only) novel in 1913, which was the year prior to his death.
The backstory of this novel, and author, and Ravel’s interest in it prompted me to seek out an English translation. I could not find one.
About 5 years ago, I played several gigs in Paris, and while there I finally found a small volume of this book in the famous book store on the Left Bank called Shakespeare and Company.
Sylvia Beach, an American, opened this still existing tiny shop in 1919. It was a meeting place for the likes of Hemingway and Joyce. In fact, Beach personally published “Ulysses,” the epic novel by James Joyce.
After having mislaid this book for a couple of years I stumbled on it last week in a rather startling way, and I took as a sign that I need to read it. I start this endeavor soon and I will get back you on what I find–and if indeed this is the French “Huckleberry Finn.”
As I have said before in this space my favorite hobby is to study the work of classic pianists of the past.
The “somewhat” distant pianists of the past I have looked at encompass Cortot, Lipatti, Rubinstein, Horowitz, Schnabel, Rachmaninoff, Godowsky, Hofmann, etc.
The more recent past include Gould, Ashkenazy, and “Sigi”.
Born in Bulgaria and migrating to America during WW2 Europe’s troubled waters to eventually study in New York, his story is a harrowing one.
He even befriended the great American pianist William Kapell, who died tragically young in a plane crash in 1953, but who left a great legacy which has been preserved in a great box set by RCA.
At any rate, “Sigi” has all of the attributes I value highly in a musician. He displayed great clarity, articulation, precision, and passion.
His recording of the Rachmaninoff Preludes are to “die for.” And I never use a term like that lightly.